Chip-and-PIN credit cards, also known as EMV for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, are the standard used everywhere in the world except the U.S. Having a card with chip-and-PIN technology can make traveling abroad much easier. So what’s the difference and where can you get one?
Chip-and-PIN cards differ from the more common cards embedded with a chip. Purchases made with chip-and-PIN cards are verified by entering a PIN (personal identification number) instead of signing a receipt. For most purchases, either type will do. You can use regular credit cards throughout Europe and the rest of the world for non-automated purchases, though some stores require a card with a chip.
At some point though you may want the convenience of making a purchase from an unmanned kiosk, and you’ll need chip-and-PIN for that. If you rent a car, for instance, you’ll find that many toll booths in Europe are automated. Or maybe you’ll want to skip the line and buy a train ticket at a machine. It’s possible that you may find yourself in a small, charming town where the merchant doesn’t know how to use your chip-and-signature card.
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Having a chip-and-PIN card is not critical, but it will make your life easier when you travel. Even though the PIN version of chip cards hasn’t yet gone mainstream in the U.S., you do have options if you want to get one.
It’s important to remember that while plenty of U.S. banks issue chip-and-signature cards, very few issue chip-and-PIN cards. Among those that do, some impose foreign transaction charges so they would not be useful overseas. And some have annual fees.
We’ve put together a list of cards that do not have annual fees and either have very low foreign transaction charges or none at all. Some of them do require joining a credit union.
No Foreign Transaction Charges and No Strings Attached
The following are the only fee free chip-and-PIN cards that don’t require you belong to a credit union:
- All HSBC MasterCard credit cards, including the Platinum MasterCard and the Platinum MasterCard with Rewards
- BankAmericard Travel Rewards from Bank of America
No Foreign Transaction Charges and Only a Few Strings Attached
These cards are issued by credit unions, which aren’t generally offered to the general public, but are easy to join:
- Andrews Federal Credit Union: Visa Platinum Rewards
- State Department Federal Credit Union: Visa Platinum
- PenFed Credit Union: PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express, PenFed Promise Visa and PenFed Gold Visa
If you join the American Consumer Counsel, which is free, you can get the Andrews FCU Visa Platinum Rewards card and the State Department FCU Visa Platinum card. Andrews FCU also requires you to open a savings account and make a deposit of at least $5.
To qualify for the Penfed cards, you just have to make a small donation to the National Military Family Association or Voices of American Troops.
Cards With a 1% Foreign Transaction Charge
Although the Wings Financial Visa Signature card is issued by a credit union, you do not need to join to get the card.
You’ll have to join the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) to get the UNFCU Visa Azure. The fee for joining varies from free to $1,000.
The only special requirement for getting the Commerce Bank Visa Signature is that you have to apply in person at a Commerce Bank branch.
The USAA World MasterCard is only available to USAA members. So you’ll have to be in the military, a veteran, or an eligible family member.
Chip-and-PIN Debit Cards
Another option for getting a chip-and-PIN card is to open a bank account with a bank offering chip-and-PIN enabled debit cards.
The Charles Schwab Bank Visa Debit Card is one of those cards. There’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction charges. One unique feature of this card is that there are no ATM fees, which comes in handy when you need cash while traveling abroad. You have to call Charles Schwab to open an account to get this debit card.
First Republic’s Visa Debit Card also offers chip-and-PIN. Although there’s no annual fee, they do not list their foreign transaction charges.
There’s one chip-and-PIN credit card with an annual fee that’s worth considering: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. It has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a 40,000 mile sign-up bonus. You’ll also earn 2.2 percent cash back, and the $89 annual fee is waived for the first year.